Saturday, 4 August 2012

Olympic legal gymnastics

is a now famous documentary film on the fracking lunacy, and Josh Fox, the director, is featured this month in Columbia, the university alumni magazine. Reading it side by side with commentary on the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, I was struck by the howling contradiction between what the court’s right-wing faction argued in that case and the exact opposite posture when citizens try to stand up to the bone-crushers of private enterprise.

Recall that the Tea Party phenomenon was born as a furious Don’t-Tread-on-Me style reaction to the perceived intrusion into our personal budgetary habits represented by mandated health insurance. They attacked the standard post-New Deal interpretation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which has long enabled the Federal Government to impose its will based on the need to regulate a complex, interstate economy.

Okay, so conservatives want government out of our lives and communities and individuals permitted to arrange their affairs without the big, bad Feds sticking their noses in, right? Not so much. This logic is completely turned on its head when giant businesses want to frack, i.e. to run roughshod over the wishes of farmers and small-town residents who would prefer not to add benzene, toluene and xylene to their morning coffee. Suddenly, the fearless tea-tippling braggarts with the Obama-as-Joker signs are nowhere to be seen, and if they dared to bring their sidearms along to the anti-fracking protests, something tells me the cops in rural Pennsylvania suddenly wouldn’t be so respectful of the Second Amendment.

It’s just priceless to see the twisted logic deployed by the Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection, an entity ‘wholly captured by the natural gas industry’, according to Susan Kraham of Columbia Law School’s Environmenta Law Clinic. Instead of respect for private property and small-town values, instead of the worship of ruggedly self-reliant, salt-of-the-earth farmers and all that is right and lovely according to conservative folklore, those resisting the fracker bullies are suddenly not in charge of their local affairs—the state of Pennsylvania is.

This past March, the governor signed into law ‘Act 13’, stripping municipalities and townships of zoning authority for gas drilling and overturning their painstaking efforts to protect their land. The law even forbids doctors who find illness among fracking-affected locals from discussing these health effects with other doctors—or even the patients themselves since these details are considered privileged commercial information. Tea Partyoids insisting that Pennsylvanians should be able to opt out of dictatorial health insurance plans don’t seem to be paying much attention to that display of intimidation.

So there we are: when the business elites want people to resist expanded social benefits, we’re all American revolutionaries in tri-cornered hats resisting Cornwallis and the illegitimate use of the Commerce Clause. When they want to drill on your land, commerce reigns supreme once again. Logical!

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